Galway shows a very different side to modern Ireland.
I'm feeling Galway's buzz as soon as I check into the House Hotel. With oversized chairs, garish pink decor, free Wi-Fi and a breakfast room that turns into a pumping cocktail bar in the evening, it's certainly a different kind of Irish. My top-floor room is carved into the old stone building yet the bathroom is large, modern and luxurious. As soon as I check in, I don't want to leave.
Galway's summer buzz comes from all directions. It's an historic town on the west coast of Ireland, made up of a blustery harbour, a gushing salmon-filled river, patches of picnic-perfect parks and a labyrinth of laneways bordered by tall stone buildings with tiny windows. The House Hotel sits solidly between the docks and Quay Street, a mostly car-free street that runs the stretch from central Eyre Square to the historic 1584 Spanish Arch on the quay.
Summer sees Galway flooded with foreign tourists as well as Irish folk who are taking a break from working lives in Australia or the US to come home to visit.
I'm here for the Galway Arts Festival. I pick up my ticket to see Glen Hansard (of The Frames and Once fame) from festival headquarters. The almost never-setting summer sun is still shining as I cross town and the River Corrib to the venue - a big top parked next to Galway's imposing cathedral. I feel for my ticket as I get to the gate. It's gone. I turn back, then change my mind and try my luck.
"You're probably not going to believe me, but I've lost my ticket!" I say. "I've come all the way from Melbourne …"
The entrance staff smile, and wave me in.
I spend the next days walking on sea-scented air, with a Hansard soundtrack. I detach myself from my way-too-comfortable accommodation and buy smoked fish from Galway Bay Seafoods at the docks. I taste organic fruit and treats from the weekend farmers' market, which takes up a narrow lane alongside St Nicholas Church just a few metres from my hotel. I sit on the grass by the Spanish Arch with hundreds of others, eating greasy fish and chips and soaking up the sun.
I listen to buskers all hoping for their moment of Commitments fame and, like all Galway's visitors seem to do, I let the sounds of the town wash over me.
GETTING THERE Etihad has flights from Melbourne to Dublin starting from $2000
STAY The House Hotel Galway has doubles from $250 a night. thehousehotel.ie; Spanish Parade, Galway City
SEE Galway Arts Festival 2014 runs from July 14-27, see galwayartsfestival.com
The author was a guest of Tourism Ireland